It is difficult for many of us to remember the days when information of all kinds wasn’t within reach of our fingertips, just a click or two away. Yet, many (44% globally) still do not have this connection. Its reach is inequitable, dividing developed from developing countries, rural regions from urban, young from old.
Photo Credit: Luke Chesser / Unsplash
In observing International Day for Universal Access to Information on September 28, UNESCO calls attention to these disparities and challenges us to “empower disadvantaged communities.” (1)
It was African civil society groups, pursuing greater information transparency, that requested this annual observation. (3) The international holiday is in its fourth year following the adoption of the concept of “Internet Universality” by UNESCO in 2015. (#AccessToInfoDay #RightToKnow)
African Advancement on Digital Rights
African states have a history of interfering with digital rights in ways that include restricting content, setting up financial barriers and passing regressive laws. In order to redress this inequity, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) was formed to promote the use of information and communications technology to support development and poverty reduction. Recently, the organization created the Africa Digital Rights Fund with the aim of awarding approximately 15 grants annually to organizations in countries across Africa. The grants are offered to initiatives that advance digital rights. This could include advocacy, litigation, research, policy analysis, digital literacy and security skills building. (5)
In this, its first year, CIPESA’s digital fund has awarded $65,000 to ten initiatives across 16 countries including Tanzania. (5) A sampling of these initiatives follows:
The African Human Rights Network Foundation, Tanzania - Sixty Tanzanian human rights defenders will be given training and opportunities to reduce internet security risks.
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa - This human rights center will document and analyze digital threats to civil society in Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
Internet Society, Namibia - Journalists and editors will be provided assistance to fact check misinformation in the run-up to the November 2019 elections.
What is the Picture on Information Access in Tanzania?
In 2016 Tanzania passed the Access to Information Act in order to provide greater transparency and accountability of public officials. Supporters believe the legislation is important to fight corruption, participate in democracy, correct misinformation and access social and economic rights, education and literacy skills. (6)
However, some critics contend that exemptions and loopholes in the law make it difficult for those requesting information and easy for those withholding information. For example, the law allows an exemption for those cases where another law governs the release of information. International standards recommend that access to information laws should be given precedence to other laws. (8)
Internet access among Tanzanians has rapidly increased in recent years with the number of users rising by 16% in 2017. (9) Over the past decade, more and more Tanzanians have begun using cell phones as a result of cheaper phones and cell services. The majority of Tanzanians gain access to the internet through their phones. The inequity, however, remains stark. A mere 14% of the rural population has access to the internet in contrast to 55% of urban dwellers. In addition, fewer women than men have access. (10)